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     Brief History

    National Park Service Role

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    Overall Accomplishments



The Civilian Conservation Corps and
the National Park Service, 1933-1942:

An Administrative History
Chapter One:
A Brief History of the Civilian Conservation Corps
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Franklin Delano Roosevelt took the oath of office as the 32nd president of the United States on March 4, 1933. He brought to that office a desire to conserve both the natural and human resources of the nation. In his inaugural address he only indirectly referred to the planned conservation program, but on March 9 he called a conference with the secretaries of agriculture, interior, and war, the director of the budget, the Army's judge advocate general, and the solicitor for the Department of the Interior to discuss the program's outline. The president wanted the Army to recruit 500,000 men and run the conditioning camps for them; the men were then to be transferred to work camps, where the Departments of Agriculture and Interior would oversee the actual work projects and camps. He asked that a draft bill be submitted to him for consideration by that evening. Edward Finney, the solicitor for the Department of the Interior, and Colonel Kyle Rucken, the Army's judge advocate general, worked all day and brought him an outline by 9:00 p.m. This unemployment relief bill called for the employment of men on public works projects and conservation tasks. On March 13, 1933, this bill was introduced in Congress, but it was immediately withdrawn because of opposition and the need for modifications. [15]

Still determined to establish a conservation work program for unemployed youth, Roosevelt directed the secretaries of interior, war, and agriculture to meet on March 15 to work out the precise details of the program. The secretaries recommended that unemployment be eased by three methods: first, through direct relief grants to the states; second, by a large public works program; and third, by a carefully designed soil erosion/forestry work program. These ideas were accepted, for the most part, and incorporated into "an act for the relief of unemployment through the performance of useful public work, and for other purposes." This legislation was resubmitted to Congress on March 21. It stipulated that the unemployed could work for the prevention of forest fires and for soil erosion, flood control, removal of undesirable plants, insect control, and construction or maintenance of paths, tracks, and fire lanes on public lands. In return, those enrolled in this program would be provided with appropriate clothing, daily subsistence, medical attention, hospitalization, and a cash allowance. [16]

This legislation was accompanied by Roosevelt's proposal for emergency conservation work. He believed that such work would not interfere with normal employment and that if the legislation was passed within two weeks, 250,000 men could be given temporary employment by early summer. He summed up the bill in the following manner:

This enterprise is an established part of our national policy. It will conserve our precious natural resources. It will pay dividends to the present and future generations. It will make improvements in National and State domains which have been largely forgotten in the past few years of industrial development.

More important, however, than the material gains will be the moral and spiritual value of such work. The overwhelming majority of unemployed Americans, who are now walking the streets and receiving private or public relief, would infinitely prefer to work. We can take a vast army of these unemployed out into healthful surroundings. We can eliminate to some extent at least the threat that enforced idleness brings to spiritual and moral stability. It is not a panacea for all the unemployment but it is an essential step in this emergency. I ask its adoption. [17]

William Green, president of the American Federation of Labor, voiced his opposition to the proposal in the joint Senate and House labor committee hearings on the bill on March 23. Green believed that the Army's supervision of the enrollees would lead to the militarization of American youth. Major General Douglas MacArthur, responding for the Army, stressed that enrollees would not be given military training or be subjected to military discipline. General MacArthur further pointed out that after 2 to 4 weeks the recruits would be transported from the conditioning camps to the work sites, where they would be under the supervision of personnel from the Departments of Agriculture and Interior. [18]

Two additional issues discussed in the hearings were enrollment stipulations and wages. The bill, commonly called the Federal Unemployment Relief Act, set the enlistment period at one year, with the stipulation that no discharges would be given except under rules that the president was to approve. The pay was set at $30 a month, and the enrollee was compelled to provide an allotment to any dependents. No age limits on enrollment or provisions against married men were established. Green objected that the $30 wage would drive down the wages of forest workers. [19]

Following the hearings the president called the joint committee members to the White House to explain his position on the issues. The result was that when the bill was brought up for debate in the Senate, the provisions concerning enrollment and wages had been replaced by a sentence that allowed the president to establish whatever stipulations were necessary for program operations. The Senate approved the bill on March 28, with a provision that the authority granted by this bill would end after two years, and sent it to the House. Some concern was expressed by the representatives that the cost of the program was estimated to be $1,000 per man per year. Also, since the funds for this program were to come from already budgeted public work funds, some congressmen believed they might lose funding for projects in their districts. These congressmen were convinced by the Roosevelt administration to vote for the measure. The Republicans attempted to amend the bill by setting the basic wage at $50 a month. After some debate this amendment went down to defeat. Congressman Oscar DePriest, a black Republican from Illinois, introduced an amendment prohibiting discrimination on enrollee selection based on race, color, or creed, which was passed by the House of Representatives. The amended bill was passed and sent back to the Senate. The Senate passed the amended bill by a voice vote, and the president signed the legislation into law on March 31. [20]

As President Roosevelt signed the bill, he commented that he would like to see the program begin in two weeks. On April 3, representatives of the Departments of War, Labor, Interior, and Agriculture gathered at the White House to discuss policy and implement the legislation, and President Roosevelt enumerated the duties of each agency. The Department of Labor was to initiate a nationwide recruiting program; the Army was to condition and transport enrollees to the work camps; and the Park Service and Forest Service were to operate the camps and supervise the work assignments.

(The Army's role was expanded when Park Service Director Horace Albright and Forest Service Chief Forester Robert Stuart realized that their agencies did not have enough men, equipment, or experience to operate the work camps 24 hours a day, so the Army was designated to operate and supervise the camps while the Park Service and Forest Service were to be responsible for the work projects.) [21] The president announced that Robert Fechner would be the director of the Emergency Conservation Work (ECW), as the Civilian Conservation Corps was officially called. The press, however, continued to use the title Civilian Conservation Corps and the name was officially changed to this in 1937. [22]

During the April 3 meeting it was also decided that the initial enrollment for the conservation work would be limited to single men between the ages of 18 and 25 who were willing to send up to $25 of their $30 wage check to their families. The president insisted that each camp be composed of 200 men doing work programs designed to last for six months and that he personally approve the camp locations and work assignments. Both the Forest Service and the Park Service opposed the 200-man quota because many of their jobs required fewer men. But they modified their programs to conform with presidential wishes. Another stipulation was that the bulk of the funds spent be on labor costs relating to work projects and not for the procurement of expensive equipment--that is, a bulldozer was not to be purchased, because there were enough men to do the same work. The program was to be started in the East and extended to the rest of the country as quickly as possible. The Park Service would be allowed to hire a limited number of skilled local men known as locally employed men (LEM). For these men the marriage and age stipulations would be waived. The bulk of the work force, however, was to be taken from the unemployed in large urban population centers. [23]

The discussions at the April 3 meeting formed the basis for Executive Order 6101, which was issued on April 5 to officially commence the ECW. The executive order appointed Fechner as the director of the Emergency Conservation Work and set up an advisory council consisting of representatives from the Departments of Labor, Interior, Agriculture, and War. The advisory council was to provide a forum for discussing policy matters. Each department would send one representative and an assistant to each meeting. The decisions of the advisory council were not binding upon the director; his decisions could only be vetoed by the president. The first advisory council representatives were W. Frank Persons, director of the United States Employment Service from the Department of Labor; Robert Y. Stuart, chief forester of the United States Forest Service from the Department of Agriculture; Colonel Duncan K. Major, General Staff Operations and Training Division from the Department of War; and Horace M. Albright, director of the National Park Service from the Department of the Interior, who was shortly succeeded by Arno B. Cammerer. (Albright resigned as NPS director on August 10, 1933, and was replaced by Cammerer.) Later the Veterans Administration, the Office of Indian Affairs, and the Office of Education sent representatives to the meetings. The following ECW organizational chart shows the relationship of the ECW, the advisory council, and the departments and agencies involved. [24]

On April 5 the ECW advisory council convened for its first official meeting, and plans were developed for the enrollment of the first 25,000 youths. W. Frank Persons, the representative from the Department of Labor, had also contacted representatives from 17 of the country's largest cities to meet in Washington on April 5 to develop regulations for selecting enrollees. On April 7 Henry Rich of Alexandria, Virginia, was inducted as the first enrollee and sent to Camp Roosevelt near Luray, Virginia, which was under the jurisdiction of the Forest Service. By April 12 Colorado and Colonial national monuments, Sequoia, Yosemite, Hot Springs, Mesa Verde, and Great Smokies national parks, and the proposed Acadia and Shenandoah national parks notified the Park Service Washington staff that they were prepared to make work assignments for ECW enrollees. On April 25 Director Fechner announced that ECW camps would be placed in Skyland and Big Meadows in the proposed Shenandoah National Park. [25]

President Roosevelt's goal to have 250,000 youths at work in the nation's parks and forests by July 1 worked a tremendous strain on the staffs of the administering agencies. The technical agencies, as the Forest Service and Park Service were referred to, were hampered by the overwhelming number of enrollees recruited, approval of work assignments, and restrictive policies regarding campsite selection. The NPS staff often worked 16 hours a day and seven days a week. By May 10 a crisis point had been reached, and it appeared that the president's objectives would not be met. The ECW advisory council worked up a program calling for more latitude of action and exemption from some government regulations. This program was brought before President Roosevelt on May 12 and received his concurrence. [26]

During this early mobilization period, three new enrollment categories were opened. On April 14 enrollment privileges were extended to American Indians, who were generally allowed to go to their work projects on a daily basis and return home at night. On April 22 enrollment was opened to locally employed men. On May 11 veterans of World War I were permitted to join the ECW. These enrollees, men in their 30s and 40s, were granted special camps, operated on a more lenient basis than the regular camps, and were selected by the Veterans Administration rather than the Labor Department. [27]

By mid-May the Park Service was prepared for 12,600 men to be employed within national parks and monuments in 63 approved camps. On May 11 the first three camps officially began operation when young men were sent from Fort Monroe, Virginia, to the proposed Shenandoah National Park and to Yorktown in Colonial National Monument. Another 10 parks planned on opening their camps in May and June. By the end of May ECW enrollees were boarded on trains in Fort Monroe and Fort Meade, Maryland, for their camp destinations in the Rocky Mountain states. By June a total of 50 camps were authorized for NPS areas, and later another 20 camps were authorized and manned. Eight of these 70 camps were in military parks and monuments, which at that time were administered by the War Department. Before the end of the first enrollment period (June 1 to September 30, 1933), these areas became part of the national park system. By July 1 approximately 34,000 youths were enrolled in 172 emergency conservation camps in 35 states. The nationwide quota of 250,000 recruits, which included the NPS quota, was achieved by this date, but the average number of enrollees in NPS camps during the first period was 36 below the presidential ideal of 200 workers per camp. [28]

At this time, state park development was in its infancy. In 1921 only 19 states had had any kind of state park system. By 1925 all 48 states had begun to formulate park development plans, but the depression had halted most of their developmental work. The Park Service had maintained a friendly relationship with the states, but had established no formal organization to help set up a state parks program. The state parks division of the ECW developed such an organization and gave the Park Service a chance to oversee the state parks systems. During the first enrollment period, 105 ECW camps were assigned to state parks projects in 26 states. The Park Service supplied or employed technicians, using ECW funds, to assist in the development and planning of the state parks systems. Recreational parks, wildlife conservation projects, and historical restoration programs within the states were begun under this program. [29]

By July President Roosevelt had not indicated whether he would exercise his option to extend the ECW. The Park Service proceeded on the assumption that the work would be continued for at least another six months and determined which camps could be operated in the winter months and which camps could be operated in the summer of 1934. Since it was expected that the ECW camps would become tourist attractions during the summer months, the Park Service directed that camp officials be available on weekends to answer questions from the public. Park Service officials in Washington directed field officers to issue press releases to local newspapers as to the work being done by the ECW in an effort to rally support for the continuation of the ECW. It was further requested that the Washington office be furnished material for general news releases. To inform the public of the benefits of the ECW, NPS Chief of the Division of Public Relations Isabelle T. Story wrote a pamphlet entitled "National Parks and Emergency Conservation," which described the conservation work being conducted in the national park areas. In it she estimated that a ECW camp would spend $5,000 per month in local markets, giving a substantial boost to the local economy and adding millions of dollars nationally when clothing, equipment, and other supplies were purchased for the conservation work. The ECW received favorable public comment and on August 19, 1933, President Roosevelt announced that the ECW camps were authorized to continue for another six months, with the second enrollment period from October 1, 1933, to March 31, 1934. The enlistment goal was 300,000 men, 25,000 of whom were to be veterans and an equal number to be LEMs. The president wanted all enrollees who had served a year in the ECW to be "mustered out" and replacements selected; however, some enrollees were allowed to reenlist for this second period. (Eventually an enrollee was allowed to remain in the ECW for a maximum of two years.) To fill vacancies, the government set the months of January, April, July, and October as the time to make enrollment selections. Applications could be made any time during the year. [30]

Before the winter of 1933 some ECW camps in severe climates were moved to southern areas and other camps were relocated closer to park headquarters. If the Army or the Park Service objected to a particular camp remaining open during the winter months, the camp was closed until the following summer. The summer tent camps gradually were replaced by more substantial wooden structures, although tents continued to be used for the side camps for which the Park Service was responsible. (Side camps--small temporary camps to support work projects in remote areas--were first authorized by Roosevelt in July 1933.) [31]

The work undertaken by the ECW during its first year included forest improvement projects, construction and maintenance of fire breaks, clearing of campgrounds and trails, construction of fire and recreation-related structures, road and trail building, forest fire suppression, survey work, plant eradication, erosion control, bridge building, flood control, tree disease control, insect control, campground construction, and landscaping. These projects were done in national parks and in state parks, with more rigid planning, inspections, and supervision being given to those projects proposed for national parks and monuments. Within the National Park Service, ECW enrollees provided guide services and other park tasks in the military areas transferred from the War Department. During 1933 the bulk of the work was accomplished in the months of July, August, and September. [32]

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